“No party in New York is considered a success unless they are there,” host Merv Griffin declared in a 1965 episode of his talk show before bringing out Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick. His assessment was spot-on: During their relationship, which began in March 1965 and ended in January 1966, Warhol and Sedgwick were the sun of the New York art scene’s orbit. Now, a new book explores the complexities of that stardom.
Just a few weeks before her 91st birthday, Alice Sedgwick Wohl, Edie’s eldest sister, has published As It Turns Out: Thinking About Edie and Andy. The family memoir, which in the words of Washington Post critic Paul Alexander is “unflinching in its honesty,” examines Edie’s upbringing and revisits her famed relationship and artistic collaboration with Pop artist Warhol. It also reckons with Edie’s tragic death—she overdosed on barbiturates in 1971, when she was 28—and the mythology that has sprung up around her since.
Warhol featured Edie in several of his short films, and Wohl was moved to write about the pair after unexpectedly coming across a clip of her sister in one of them, Outer and Inner Space.
For much of the memoir, Wohl addresses her writing directly to her brother, Bobby, who died in a motorcycle accident just before Edie met Warhol.
“Ever since my brother Bobby died, I’d have this dialogue [with him] in my head,” Wohl tells Town & Country magazine’s Adam Rathe. “After [Bobby] died, I was so aware that I was alive and seeing these developments, which I hadn't anticipated, and he certainly didn't. Then when I saw Edie on film, and I saw that Andy Warhol was a genius and that Edie was really extraordinary, the dialogue was reactivated.”
As It Turns Out begins with the Sedgwicks’ childhood. Raised by their parents Alice de Forest and Francis Sedgwick, the eight Sedgwick children came of age in a wealthy household, first on Long Island and then on ranches in California. Their privilege did not shield them from abuse. Per the Post, Edie spoke publicly in her lifetime about her father’s sexual advances—starting when she was as young as 7 years old—and physical violence.
“The fact that I find it hard to believe doesn’t mean some of it couldn’t have been true,” writes Wohl, who candidly examines her father’s unapologetic racism, erratic mood swings and abusive tendencies.
In the latter half of the book, Wohl takes up Edie’s relationship with Warhol, which began when the pair met at a Central Park South penthouse birthday party for Tennessee Williams. Warhol, 36, saw Edie, 21, and was immediately smitten with her beauty. The pair quickly became inseparable, and Edie became Warhol’s muse and the star of many of his art films, such as Poor Little Rich Girl and Vinyl.
Their brief relationship lasted under a year, ending in disputes over Edie’s roles in the artist’s films. According to New York Times critic Alexandra Jacobs, Wohl’s book is interested in dispelling damsel-in-distress narratives that have been pushed onto Edie’s legacy.
“She was not Miranda in The Tempest,” Wohl writes. “She was more like a feral creature springing out of captivity.”
Wohl has spoken about her younger sister before—notably for the 1994 book Edie: An American Biography—and she has come to regret some of her comments about Warhol and his art. But with the perspective provided by decades, Wohl wanted to present Edie and Warhol differently, she tells Town & Country.
“I am ashamed to see the shallow things I said,” Wohl writes in her book. “I just didn’t get it.”
As It Turns Out, she writes, is an attempt “to set the record straight.” It is also an outlet for her to speak candidly about her upbringing, where sensitive matters were not discussed.
“If you are brought up forbidden to speak out and prevented from knowing, you are so incapacitated,” Wohl tells Town & Country. “The truth is the only thing in life that matters.”